Click title to go to review (Arranged in approximate order of release
from most recent to earliest):

Four Rooms
Cry the Beloved Country
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but
...Came Down a Mountain

Strawberry and Chocolate
Before the Rain
The Secret of Roan Inish

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Georgia              Reviewed by Jon Kennedy               
R-language, nudity, sex

Georgia, a slice of the lives of two sister pop musicians and their respective retinues, is a relentlessly existentialist movie. There are scenes that seem disconnected from the storyline, and the epiphany scene extolls the "eternal now" in what could be a reference to heaven or God if there were any framework for such a connection. Or it might refer—and does—to the moments of validation that devout existentialists live for.

Though "grace, grace" is invoked in some lines reminiscent of a Wesleyan hymn, it's nothing more than the grace of being totally stoned when the exigencies of life and the inevitability of death get too heavy to bear.

Though this is bleak, and isn't helped any by its being set in rainy greater Seattle, I personally agree with the Apostle Paul that if there is no resurrection, the existentialist explanation is the closest approximation of truth available. So I begrudginingly admire honest existentialism and sympathize with drug addicts and alcoholics. They've done a little thinking, ruled out God, and concluded there's not that much to be sanguine about.

That describes Sadie, the central character, played superbly by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her sister, Georgia, a highly successful pop singer played by Mare Winningham, seems to know Sadie is the honest one of the pair, and the true artist, and she somewhat envies, somewhat detests, her for it despite her genuine older-sisterly love.

Sadie is a consummate dependent, Georgia and her husband the consummate codependents. She's so slick at manipulating those around her that neither Sadie nor her victims realize they're being entangled in her web.

Though bleak, the surprise about Georgia is that it has a fine line of delightful humor all the way through, mostly in the understated ironies that are Sadie's conversational schtick. These are people, all of them, who "know" life has no more meaning than a bottle of booze, yet they can pretend and joke about it all the way to the grave. You've got to love them.

Othello              Reviewed by Jon Kennedy               
R; adult themes; semigraphic sexual situations; nudity; violence

Othello (Laurence Fishburne) is the Moorish general of an army from the Venetian city-state sent in 1532 to rout the Turks from Cypress. On the eve of that assignment, he secretly marries Desdemona (Irene Jacob), the most desired fair maid of the city-state, at least among the troops. Desdemona's father claims she has been beguiled and tries to disrupt the union, but on his daughter's protestations of true love of her new husband, is placated.

For reasons that are never explained—perhaps it's racism, perhaps professional jealousy—handsome, dashing, clever, and treacherous Iago (Kenneth Branagh) hates Othello and plots his undoing. This is William Shakespeare's take on "Oh what a tangled web we weave." The old saying is you can tell it's a tragedy if all the main characters are dead in the end. This is not one of Shakespeare's comedies.

As one who would prefer American subtitles on my Shakespeare, I found this fairly easy to follow, but then again maybe others know why Iago hated Othello so. Shakespeare is always worth watching, of course, especially if you're too sophisticated for the Bible, for the fun of picking out a famous saying or allusion here and there that you didn't know the origins of. I didn't know, for example, that Othello was the literary source of "crocodile tears" and "willow, weep for me."

Oh—the Turks were successfully routed, but despite a hint of warfare action in the trailer, entirely off camera. The only on-camera action is sex-humping and street brawling. Excellent acting and georgeous cinematography in Italian locations.

Four Rooms              Reviewed by Jon Kennedy               
R—obscenity, sexual situations, nudity; violence

Despite a couple of ostensible parallels to last year's cult classic Pulp Fiction—the fact that it's episodic in story form—four 20-minute episodes in the New Year's eve of a new Hollywood hotel bellhop—and it's mainly the project of film auteur Quentin Tarantino, Four Rooms is a sophomoric—or more like seventh-grader—attempt at bawdy comedy that's mostly offensive and good for only a couple of chuckles and one startled guffaw at the very end. Those who take their entertainment high may love it when it comes to HBO, and it could be a prototype for a new Fox-network situation comedy with the R-words cleaned up to PG-13 level.

Remember the lamentable episode of Saturday Night Live on which Mary Tyler Moore offended everyone she didn't disillusion by saying "penis" two dozen times in succession? Multiply that skit by 90 minutes, being advised that "penis" is never actually uttered—that would be haute couture by comparison—and you get the basic tenor of Four Rooms.

Cry the Beloved Country

PG--adult themes
Reviewed by Jon Kennedy

How could a film retelling of a story set in 1946 South Africa based on a 1960's novel, made and released after the fall of apartheid and the total revolution of South African life possibly become the best movie of 1995?

By concentrating on the universal themes of love-hate-brotherhood and human life-death-survival that are as current in jaded, cynical pseudosophisticated 1995 as they were in 1945 or 1965.

Cry the Beloved Country is the story of two fathers--one African, the other European, played superbly by James Earl Jones and Richard Harris respectively--who lose and in a sense regain their grown sons. Also under the surface here is the story of the effects urbanization often has on the soul. Both sons were from the countryside which the father played by Jones, who is also the story's narrator, calls too lovely for description in words. Both go to seek their future and fortune in the burgeoning Johannesburg, which Jones' son describes as a dangerous place. Indeed it is. Dangerous to the body and spirit.

Cry the Beloved Country is the most "literary" film I've seen in years, a perfect vehicle for its two main actors. There is only mildly depicted sexual imagery and violence here; no obscene language or profanity beyond the kind they don't bleep out on television any more. This is definitely worthy of your holiday-season "to-do" list.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain

Rated PG
Reviewed by Jon Kennedy

This movie is a light entertainment with little profundity and, alas, none of the knee-slapping laughs the commercials for it are promising. I remember only a few titters, no uproarious laughter, at the screening I attended.

But if you're interested in Wales and England, or Hugh Grant (as I understand many of the womenfolk are these days), it is definitely worth seeing.

Though there's a little irreverence in the way the town pastor is treated in this film, he has his turn at bat, so to speak, and there's none of the gratuitous blasphemy of Grant's hit of a year ago, Four Weddings and A Funeral, which this is being compared to.

The villagers in this purportedly true tale claim their boundary is the point at which Wales begins and England ends, because Wales is the land of the mountains and their's is the first mountain. A survey classifies their mountain as a hill, and with that hilarious setup, anything can happen. A good date movie.

Strawberry and Chocolate

Not rated; would be R for language and nudity. In Spanish, with subtitles.
Reviewed by Jon Kennedy
Although no press kit was available at press time, this Cuban film imported by Robert Redford and Miramax must represent a breakthrough in the Cold War embargo that still exists between the United States and the Western world's last Communist holdout.

But this is hardly propaganda for Castro: Havana, described by the protagonists as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is decaying badly in this 1979 cineplay, and the Communist characters are hardly enthusiastic for their revolution. This is another in a growing library of tracts by artists describing the death of art wrought by totalitarianism, which perverts art to purposes of propaganda.

The main characters are Diego, a 30ish homosexual, and David, a college undergraduate, who meet when Diego asks to share a table on campus where David is having lunch. Diego pulls no punches, making it obvious from his first speech that he is not "straight," and addressing David from the beginning as "honey," "sweetie," "child," and with other diminutives.

David expresses his repulsion and attempts to get away, but in a seduction reminiscent of The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Diego pulls him in, getting David to his tiny apartment on a ruse and, although David never gives him any sexual favors, winning his mind with the offer of heady goodies like banned books, religious artifacts, art, and the appreciation of art--music, poetry, literature, sculpture--for art's sake.

At first David tries to be a good Communist and tells his roommate back at the commune that he suspects this "faggot"--whom he recognized as such from the first moment because he was eating strawberry ice cream when there was chocolate available--of being subversive, and it's at the roommate's urging that David returns to the spider's web to "get more evidence" against Diego. But it's soon obvious that he is drawn there by something other than desire to foil the man harboring subversive ideas.

Diego becomes as addictive to David as the forbidden Western whisky that he first introduces him to. And the two men end up changing, and changing each other, in ways worth pondering.

Before the Rain

(Unrated, would be R for language, violence)
Reviewed by Jon Kennedy

The first half hour of this movie, set on the Aegean Sea in Macedonia, is beautiful not only for its scenic views but the tender conflict that arises when a youthful Muslim refugee from her own people hides out in the monastic cell of a young Orthodox Christian monk.

But as a whole, although there is lots of conflict both internal and external to ponder, the story thread of this film is difficult to follow, and both its use of violence and obscene language are so excessively gratuitous that I have difficulty recommending it.

Its main value will be as a historical sidebar to the wars that have torn the lands that were formerly Yugoslavia—Macedonia has not been nearly so savagely ravished as Bosnia and Serbia, yet it is a tinderbox containing the same kinds of historical "kindling" that could—and often does—flash at any moment.

The monk's being turned away from the monastery after his superiors discover that he hid, and lied about hiding, the young refugee, may be a metaphor for the impotency or irrelevancy of organized religion in today's world, as the filmmakers see it. Would that their narration had been plainer, and built more on that point.

The Secret of Roan Inish

(Unrated, would be PG; themes may be difficult for preschoolers)
Reviewed by Jon Kennedy

Roan Inish is a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland, which had been the home of the central family in this fantasy tale, but has now been abandoned. Seven- or eight-year-old Fiona, sent to live with her grandparents, revisits the island with her grandfather and 13-year-old cousin who fish nearby.

While playing on the uninhabited island, she learns that her "lost" baby brother, presumed drowned as an infant, is surviving through the help of the seals who live in the area, and she eventually learns the mythical secrets that kept him alive, and leads the rest of her family to believe in her story.

Beautiful Irish location scenery and fascinating characters are the stars of this movie, which is captivating on some levels, but like Celtic mythology, asks a great deal of suspension of disbelief to be appreciated.

© 1995 JRK